Being away from those you love and care about most is something every Marine, active or retired, can relate to. Being instinctively mindful of natural disaster headlines and what they might mean back home is a harsh reality shared by all Marines.
For Marine Corps Air Station Yuma’s Lance Cpl. Giovanni Serna, a Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron corrections specialist and a native of Elmwood Park, NJ, Hurricane Sandy was a name that came to the forefront of his mind through all of late October.
“I’m always updated on news, so I first heard about it when it was off the coast of Florida. I never thought it would end up all the way in Northern Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York,” said Serna. “I’ve got a lot of friends and family back home, so I was concerned and keeping track of it as well.”
The storm, dubbed Superstorm Sandy and Frankenstorm by various media outlets, reached wind speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour and stretched as far as 175 miles from its eye, with tropical force winds spanning over 400 miles. It was the second largest Atlantic tropical storm to hit the Northeastern coast in recorded history.
For Serna, the oncoming storm had him remembering his old stomping grounds and the people he shared great memories with.
“Going there as a kid, going there as a teenager, I wouldn’t have chosen any other place to have grown up than the Jersey shore,” said Serna. “People, personality wise, are really friendly. Everyone knows each other, everyone likes to have fun.”
Serna found his way into the Corps straight out of high school. Before finishing his freshman year, Serna had contacted a recruiter. The Corps found him two years later and his interest in law enforcement found him looking at the military police field.
“I wanted to join the brotherhood, the world’s best fighting force,” said Serna. “Luckily, I ended up being a corrections specialist. A brig guard, you know.”
Having been in a year and a half, Serna has already felt first-hand what the weight of being stationed away from New Jersey during a natural disaster is like.
“The same morning, ‘bout four or five hours before it was supposed to hit, I called all my close relatives,” said Serna. “I was asking them how bad it was going to be, if they had enough food, trying to give them advice.”
The storm hit New Jersey on Oct. 29 and left New Jersey in ruins. The Lincoln tunnel and the George Washington Bridge shut down. Property and businesses were left destroyed in Sandy’s wake, including the popular Jersey shore. Whole neighborhoods were left flooded.
“We were anxious during the whole thing, waiting to see the damage it was about to bring,” said Fabian Romero, Serna’s 31-year-old cousin and a native of Woodland Park, NJ. “What was left was very depressing. Shattered memories – Seaside Heights will never be the same.”
Some of Serna’s aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who lived right by the shore had to abandon their homes and evacuate to nearby shelters while Sandy ripped through their city.
“They’re safe for now, but I just keep telling them to keep their heads up. Everyone should be helping each other out,” said Serna. “I tell them that they can always rebuild and to not lose hope.”
For the 20-year-old Marine from North Jersey, Hurricane Sandy served as a personal reminder of what the true, personal cost of serving one’s country means to today’s Marine.